I’ve been traveling pretty hard so far this year. In fact, if my calculations are correct, it could be said that I’ve been gone from home for almost half of the year already. I know, right? If I’m gone much more my wife might start to worry about all those bonsai groupies that throw themselves at me after my demos. 

Not to worry dear wife! My love….she who must be obeyed….your love is so sweet, I’d never want once from the cherry tree (stole that last bit from Hozier, shhhh, don’t tell her!) 

Anyway, Over the weekend, I had the privilege of visiting and working with all kinds of new friends down on the southwest Florida coast. One guy in particular is named Ryan and he asked me over his place to take a look at his collection, give him some ideas on where he should go next with some of them and, important to today’s blog post, to take a look at a bougie he had collected. How’s this?  

 Purty flowers. 

Too bad I have to cut them all off. Yeah man, it’s a rule in the Southeast Chapter of the Bonsai Professional’s Guild and Bridge Club that, when one is styling a flowering tree, the flowers must be cut off. It’s the truth, I wouldn’t lie to you. Would I do that? We have lapel pins, a secret handshake and a bowling league. Owen is the points leader, he almost always bowls a perfect game.   

It has a decent base, for a vine.    Good flare. Let’s see what kind of mess we can make of the rest of the tree. 

 For reference, a before shot. Print it out so you can refer back as we progress.  

Using a reciprocating saw (that would be a Sawzall® for those who also say BAND-Aid® or Q-Tip® instead of adhesive bandage and cotton swab) we do some pruning. We could use a $90 Japanese pull saw to prune the branches out. Yeah, let’s go with that…..


What’s left of the poor tree, you ask? Did we just chop it all off and this is just a lesson in how brutal our hero (that’d be me, Adam Lavigne, the hero, or protagonist) can really be. I mean….I MEAN, am I the kind of person that will take a child out into the ocean and throw said child off the back of the boat, just to teach him how to swim? Am I  a “sink or swim” kinda teacher? Well, sometimes. This time, though, I had a plan. Here’s the tree after surgery.    

Poor Ryan. He was a good sport but I’m sure he was watching me, this  mad bonsai-man with an electric saw, brutally but casually chopping off limbs like Leatheface or Hannibal the Cannibal getting ready for the Annual Family Reunion Barbecue and Social. I can only imaging him thinking “How much am I paying this fool again, I coulda done that?” 

 Worry not, dear Ryan, I’m about to show you why they pay me the “Big Bucks”. 

At this point,  we needed to adjust the angle of the planting. Right now it’s falling back, like that drunken cousin at an open bar wedding reception, we need it to be leaning forward, just a little. 

When one looks at a bonsai from the front, it should appear that the tree is “bowing” to the viewer. This is something that many people don’t know or haven’t been taught. Let me explain what I mean. In the following illustration, you will see that the  “tree” is leaning slightly to the front. 

 This, along with viewing the bonsai at the proper height (which is where the word “front” is written in the illustration, about one third up the trunk, that’s where eye level should be). This forward inclination tricks your eye into thinking that the tree is “looming” over you. And that makes a small tree appear larger than it is. Write this line down: The Art of Bonsai is the illusion of making a small, relatively young tree, look like a tall, ancient tree. Another couple of tricks we sneaky bonsai artists use are a thing called taper and making sure that the spacing between the branches gets smaller the higher in the tree you go (I call this last the vanishing point or “railroad track” principle)  

How does this apply to our bougie? Here’s the new planting angle, side view with the front to the left.  

 Now for some carving. The tree doesn’t have much taper at all. In fact, the multiple branches at the top actually make it fatter up there.  

 This is called, variously, reverse, inverse or, obverse, taper. So it’s my job to make the tree appear to have taper by carving. Let’s see if I can do it. To accomplish this feat,  I’ll be using just my die grinder with a roto-saw carbide burr. And a torch. Cuz fire is cool. 


Now, for obvious reasons (not the least being loss of important phalanges) I don’t tend to get many pics of the carving process. And, as I was charging by the hour, I didn’t want to waste too much of my clients time taking pics (I did take my time during lunch though. We had what Ryan called a “Hlavsa Burger”, a spectacular creation from Ryan’s kitchen that has, among other things, sharp cheddar, chimmichurri, and fresh dill pickles. I don’t use text-speak much but, this time, I can only say, OMG….yessir, OMG). I did not, in very un-Adam like fashion, get a pic. Sorry. But it was tasty. 

Fire for the fuzzies and….


… how’s that?     

I could be lying and I am really having a private session with Wil Wheaton……

 ………naaaah, couldn’t be.  You might want to check out Wil’s blog though…he might be writing his version of our day together right now. 


I think the carving works. I could be wrong though. 

Ryan’s job now is to get some wood hardener on the carved wood and, about a week later, hit it with lime sulphur. If you do this religiously, the wood, which usually rots out pretty easily on a bougie, will last. 

Now, back to the one, lonely branch I left after the initial butchery.  

 Hey, there’s one flower left. Not for long but it’s there now. Savor it. Then say “buh-bye”.

Some wire…… 

Some gentle and slow bending….. 


A little more wire….. 




 And that’s it.  

   Imagine that as solid pad of flowers. Go ahead, I’ll wait…….exciting, am I right?

It being December and all, we didn’t repot it, we just added soil to the bottom to prop it up. The serious repotting should take place late spring. I’d say in a round pot. 

Many thanks to Ryan and his woman for allowing my crazy ass into their home for a few hours to practice my art, I truly and seriously appreciate it. And that burger, off the hook. I’ll have to steal the recipe. See you soon my friend. 

Happy New Year! 


13 thoughts

  1. Damn, Adam, this transformation is stunning. It really illustrates the value of a plan, sprinkled with a lot of artistry. You ‘da man!!


  2. Wil Wheaton is definitely going to be this years Halloween costume. Thanks again for all the knowledge and great bougie transformation.


  3. Bravo Adam, ancora una volta con il tuo intervento drastico hai creato un gran bonsai, devi ammettere però che avevi una buona base di partenza. Buon 2016 a té from Italy.💀💪🏾💀💪🏾💀💪🏾


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